Most of us have seen a “Wordless Book” or a “Wordless Bead bracelet” that uses colors to teach the message of salvation. The colors help even young children who cannot read to understand the message of the Gospel. In the same fashion, we use the colors of the church year to help us “sense” and remember the important events in the life of Christ. It was God Himself who first designated certain colors be used when He gave explicit instructions to Moses about the construction of the Tabernacle. [see for instance Exodus 26:1; 36:8]
White is used for the major feasts related to the Lord Jesus and His Father. You will see white, the symbol of purity, joy and truth often paired with gold, the color of royalty. White is also used for many feasts of saints who are not martyrs.
Red, like fire, reminds of us the coming of the Holy Spirit and is prominently used at Pentecost and ordinations when the call of the Holy Spirit is recognized and affirmed. Likewise, a blood red symbolizes the sacrificed life of a martyr and calls us to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and His shed blood on our behalf.
Green brings to mind those seasons when crops are planted and mature. Green has always been associated with new life and growth and it is used during the non-festival or ordinary time after Epiphany and between Trinity Sunday and the end of the church year.
Purple is also a royal color but in the church year it calls us to repentance. It is considered mostly a penitential color and is always used in Lent when we “repent in sackcloth and ashes” that we might be born again with Christ on the Day of Resurrection. It is also seen in Advent, but there it carries more of a quiet sense of expectation and preparation that we might be spiritually prepared for the feast of Christmas. Some churches have chosen to use a dark blue for Advent in order to distinguish it from the color of Lent. Purple is also used for healing services.
Black represents deep sorrow and may be used for Good Friday and for the dead but these days white is often used for Christian funerals to celebrate the new life in heaven for the deceased.